The Big Book Review

Okay basically this post (and possibly the next one) is because I’ve built up a pile of books I have to post reviews of but have been short of time.  If I get time I might expand on some of them at a later date (highly unlikely!).  So here is a selection of short reviews.

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Seek – Denis Johnson – 9/10
This is a wide-ranging collection of essays by author and poet Johnson. The writing is beautifully fluid and the events captivating. The extraordinary and sometimes horrific events in Africa (“The Civil War in Hell” and “An Anarchist’s Guide to Somalia”) are stand-out pieces.

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Enemies, A History of the FBI – Tim Weiner – 8/10
An engrossing history of the FBI which demonstrates that US intelligence agencies have been crossing breaking laws and encroaching on civil rights from their earliest days. Understandably the Hoover years take up a large chunk of this book as he sought to impose his unscrupulous character on the organisation he dominated. The reader is left wondering if the FBI’s successes outweigh its failings.

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The Battle – Paul O’Connell – 7/10
Paul O’Connell’s autobiography follows his career from his early days as a swimmer and golfer to his huge successes as a rugby player. While the victories are retold in vivid detail the violence, injuries, and heavy drinking leave a slightly empty feeling. A book that would discourage many a parent from sending their kids to a rugby playing school.

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House of Bush, House of Saud – Craig Unger – 7/10
This book provides a good overview of US and Saudi relations during the period around the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Unger rightly points out the corrosive effects of oil interests on Bush (senior and junior) policies. However he is on shakier ground trying to link these policies directly to 9/11 (Saudi Wahhabist ideology taken to its ultimate nihilistic conclusion was the real culprit). Unger almost veers into conspiracy theory mode in his descriptions of Bin Laden family members leaving the US immediately after 9/11.

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The Rás – Tom Daly – 8/10
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book about Ireland’s premier cycle race turned but it turned out to be an unexpected pleasure. Starting in 1953 the Rás offered Irish riders a chance to get tour experience. The organisation was basic to put it mildly with the mostly amateur riders requiring unbelievable toughness to complete the race. Their is also political intrigue (and sometimes violence) as the all-Ireland Rás competed with the 26 county Irish Cycling Federation.

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Bridges of Dublin – Annette Black and Michael Barry – 8/10
This book does exactly as it says – it describes the history of all of the Dublin bridges that cross the river Liffey. This book is also full of interesting photos including one showing that the Richmond Tower at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham was once situated by the Liffey but was moved to its present location brick by brick to widen the south quays.

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Inside Team Sky – David Walsh – 8/10
Walsh, the journalist who played a crucial role in exposing Lance Armstrong’s cheating, spent a season embedded with Team Sky. Walsh’s time gives a fascinating look into how the world’s top cycling team operates. However Walsh’s conclusion that Team Sky are free from doping has been called into question by subsequent revelations.

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